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Social media platforms face ongoing struggle to combat disinformation

President Trump has repeatedly made misleading and false statements about mail-in ballots, the vote-counting process and more. Some of his supporters and members of the conservative media have, too. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have tried to limit the spread of disinformation -- but doing so is complicated. William Brangham talks to The Washington Post's Elizabeth Dwoskin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well before the election, and ever since, President Trump has repeatedly tweeted out misinformation and outright falsehoods about mail-in ballots, about voting, the counting process, and more.

    That's also been true for some of the president's supporters and some in conservative media.

    As William Brangham tells us, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been trying to limit the spread of disinformation, but it's more complicated than it appears.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    The social media companies have tried to put warnings and labels on misleading information. In some cases, Twitter tried to make it harder for users to spread posts that were labeled with misinformation. Facebook took down a network of pages with false information about voter fraud that was tied to the hashtag #stopthesteal.

    But, despite all of these moves, false information still finds its way out on so many other networks and so many other platforms.

    Elizabeth Dwoskin is a reporter with The Washington Post who covers this space, and she joins me now.

    Elizabeth, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    Just remind us what Facebook and Twitter and these social media companies have been doing thus far to try to stamp out misinformation.

  • Elizabeth Dwoskin:


    Well, the companies are hell-bent on avoiding the repeat of 2016, the scenario where their platforms were abused by Russian operatives. So, this year, they took unprecedented measures to change their platform. Facebook disabled group recommendations. It banned political ads, which they have extended. Twitter, as you said, slapped these labels on content where they actually covered up content for the first time and said, these claims are disputed.

    And they banned claims that would dispute — they banned claims that would dispute election results. They banned any kind of intimations of violence at the polls.

    So, all these were unprecedented measures for companies that had never actually banned misinformation of any kind prior to 2020.

  • William Brangham:

    I certainly understand the instinct. And many people do. Some, not just on the right, argue that this is just flat-out suppression of free speech. That is a separate conversation for now.

    But, despite these efforts, and — there are still ways for tenacious actors to get around the flags and the labels and the blocks, right?

  • Elizabeth Dwoskin:


    One of the most interesting things that I saw observing what played out last week in the election and its aftermath was that these group arose around the hashtag #stopthesteal.

    And Facebook has this balancing act, because, on the one hand, they do want to allow people to protest and say that they don't believe in the election. I mean, they want to be a platform for people to say those kinds of things.

    At the same time, a lot of what those groups are being mobilized on and fueled by is misleading information, and not just accidental misleading information, but active campaigns, like those put out by Steve Bannon. Facebook removed a network tied to Steve Bannon last week, former Trump chief strategist, where they are sowing active disinformation and doubt about the vote process.

    None of these misleading claims around sharpies in Arizona, dead people voting in Pennsylvania, Biden purportedly claiming to support voter fraud, those claims have not borne out.

    And so these — this popular movement to contest the election has been fueled by misinformation. And while Facebook and Twitter want to stop the misinformation, they also do believe that people do have a right, to some extent, to organize in the way they want.

    And that's why you saw last week that they banned some groups, but hundreds of other groups proliferated.

  • William Brangham:

    Within this ecosystem of misinformation, certainly, we have seen, on the networks, FOX News in particular, some of their prime-time hosts have been a big vehicle for this as well.

    And I want to play this clip that aired on FOX News recently. This is Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who are two of the prime-time hosts. And they were talking about some of these labels that Twitter had been putting on tweets of the president's.

    And they were suggesting that people who were sick of this kind of intrusion, as they say, ought to go somewhere else.

    Let's listen to this.

  • Laura Ingraham:

    Every time Trump tweets now, it says, this claim about election fraud is disputed.

    But do you notice how anything the left says, is any of it ever blue-flagged like that, like Twitter does?

  • Sean Hannity:

    Can we now move everybody from Twitter to Parler?

  • Laura Ingraham:



  • Sean Hannity:

    Can we just, like, make the shift together, like, just say, goodbye Twitter?

  • William Brangham:

    For people who don't follow this that closely, what is Parler? And why has it become such a sensation?

  • Elizabeth Dwoskin:

    Parler is a — quote, unquote — "pro-free speech" social network. It's an alternative social network that was founded about two years ago to tackle supposedly censorship — quote, unquote — "censorship" by the tech giants.

    And what you are seeing is these commentators on FOX saying that everyone should leave the major platforms Facebook and Twitter and go to this alternative service, where they can say anything about stop the steal, voter fraud, et cetera.

    And you actually saw it had an effect. I think we wrote this week that Parler became the top download in the Apple app store. It saw a huge — this last weekend. It saw a huge surge in users.

    But you also have to remember that they don't — anyone who wants to — the people who are trying to create a sustained movement to oppose the results of the presidential election want it to be as broad as possible, and so they don't just want to sit in an echo chamber on Parler, which has still a fraction of Facebook's multibillion users.

    And so they still want to be on the main platforms.

  • William Brangham:

    Elizabeth Dwoskin of The Washington Post, thanks for helping us wade through all of this.

  • Elizabeth Dwoskin:

    Thanks for having me.

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